|Celtics roundtable wrap-up: Team awards||04.17.15 at 12:58 pm ET|
With the end of the regular season, WEEI.com’s Celtics writers — Julian Edlow, Sam Packard and Ben Rohrbach — have come together to hand out some team awards. On Sunday Ben Rohrbach will have a complete preview the first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Cavaliers.
Julian Edlow: It sounds so corny to make a coach the MVP, but it’s the truth. Brad Stevens is the Celtics‘ MVP. What he’s done, going from a revolving door of players into a tight-knit team that’s hotter than anyone in the East, is truly remarkable. Each and every one of Stevens’ guys love playing for him, and it shows out on the court.
Sam Packard: I was leaning toward Stevens, too, for all the reasons Julian mentioned, but for variety’s sake I will take a player. I think Avery Bradley is the MVP this season. In addition to his great defense, Bradley has been the Celtics‘ most consistent scorer. If he could just extend his range out about three feet, he would be an All-Star.
Ben Rohrbach: Brad Stevens. When the front office trades your team’s top scorer (Jeff Green) and top playmaker (Rajon Rondo), injuries claim your last three first-round picks for at least 15 games apiece (Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart), and you’re operating at various stretches of the season with Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Evan Turner and even Tayshaun Prince as your best player, it’s probably safe to say your coaching played an important role in your team winning 40 games.
JE: The playoffs are as big of a surprise as we could have imagined. No one saw this coming when the C’s were 16-30 just 2 1/2 months ago. Fast forward to the postseason and Boston is 40-42 — finishing up at 24-12 since Feb. 2. And for those who would consider changing the playoff format, and I’m not against this, the Celtics still would be in with the 16th-best record in the league. But if the playoffs were too broad of an answer, getting Isaiah Thomas is a big surprise, too. He’s a huge reason that they are where they are.
SP: Who knew Evan Turner could be this good? No matter what he does, he is going to be the most hated Celtic on Twitter, but I have been really impressed by his ability to run the offense this year. His 2.5 turnovers a game are annoying, but the guy needs the ball in his hands to make plays, and he does exactly that. This year he joined Larry Bird, Antoine Walker, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo as the only Celtics to have three triple-doubles in a season.
BR: Turner. Anybody who thought a guy who ranked 205th in assist-to-turnover ratio last season would essentially be running the point as arguably the most important player for a playoff team this year is kidding themselves.
|Kelly Olynyk proves he’s as tough as any hockey player||04.02.15 at 9:34 am ET|
Too bad Kevin Garnett never played with Kelly Olynyk.
Garnett, one of the most fierce competitors in recent Celtics lore, would’ve been proud to watch how Olynyk handled himself Wednesday night. The second-year swing man out of Gonzaga insisted on playing with his left eye shut thanks to a pregame accidental elbow from teammate Shav Randolph.
Good thing since Olynyk made seven of his 10 shots, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, scoring 19 off the bench in a 100-87 win over the Pacers that keeps Boston right in the mix of race for the final two playoff spots in the East.
“It didn’t affect me a lot except I couldn’t see that well from that eye,” Olynyk said. “I felt good, we played well as a team, moved the ball, got open looks from the start and just got rolling.”
“I gave him no hope of playing,” marveled Tyler Zeller, who matched Olynyk’s team-high 19 points. “He looked like he just got out of a boxing fight. I was impressed with his ability to go out and play and be able to produce like he did. He couldn’t have been able to see out of that eye so he did a great job of playing through it.”
What was particularly amazing was how his teammates, realizing he had the hot hand with just one eye, kept feeding him the ball. His three-ball with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter was the perfect capper on the night, extending the Celtics‘ lead out to 16, 94-78.
“[Tuesday] night I went in the gym and got a lot of shots up, just kind of repped it out and just felt really good,” Olynyk said. “I was feeling good, before the game I was feeling good even after I got hit, I came back out and tried it out so I knew I was going to have a good one.”
|Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller making believers of themselves, others||03.17.15 at 11:09 am ET|
With winning comes confidence. With confidence late in the season comes expectation. And these Celtics are talking and acting like a team that expects to make a run to the Eastern Conference playoffs with 16 games left in their season.
Avery Bradley is one of only three players left from the last Celtics team to make the playoffs just two seasons ago. He, Brandon Bass and Shav Randolph were all on the 2013 team that lost in six games to the Knicks.
When the Celtics were 20-33 this season and headed for another seemingly dead end to the season, could he picture his teammates making an improbable run to the postseason?
“For sure, I saw that we were improving every single game and I knew we would have a chance if we set our mind to it and started [believing] in our [potential] and that’s what we were doing. We never thought we didn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Now we’re right there.”
Indeed, after Monday’s 108-89 blowout of the hapless Sixers, the Celtics are definitely in the mix. While technically ninth and on the outside looking in due to their 18-21 record in the East, they are tied with the Pacers and Heat for seventh in the East with a 30-36 record.
Monday, the Celtics came in focused, even in shootaround, determined not to let a game against the 15-51 Sixers stand in their way of their first five-game win streak under Brad Stevens. They outscored Philly 38-18 in the first quarter and it wasn’t a game after that.
“It’s hard, especially when you come in at halftime up by 20 and your coach might say, ‘let’s go out there and continue to play hard,’ you get a little nervous,” Bradley said. “You start thinking once you get back out there on the floor and that’s one thing we didn’t do. Even though they were scoring we continued to execute our plays on both ends of the floor and it helped us continue to have a 20 point lead.”
When the Celtics, who shot 67 percent in the first quarter, looked inside, there was Tyler Zeller leading the way. He found his comfort zone and poured in a career-high 26 points.
“I don’t know, I mean the shots fell down,” Zeller said. “Jump shot felt really good and then they kept leaving me open so I just kept shooting it. Once again my teammates do a great job of getting me the ball on time and it makes it a lot easier.”
Road games against teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio can be intimidating for young teams in transition. But that’s not the way these Celtics are looking at Wednesday and Friday. It’s a chance to show how much fun they’re having chasing an improbable playoff spot.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Zeller said. “The whole year we’ve been changing, I think Danny’s done a great job putting together the team that we’ve got. We’ve been playing with different players every night and finally have a team where we’ve settled in, playing with the same players every night and it’s fun to go to battle that way. We do a great job of playing hard and playing together.”
|5 things we learned as Celtics roll over 76ers||03.16.15 at 9:55 pm ET|
The hottest team in the NBA? Well, that might just be the Boston Celtics.
The C’s destroyed the lowly 76ers 108-89 on Monday night, wining their fifth straight game and moving into a tie with the Pacers and Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Celtics (30-36) would now be in the playoffs if they were to start tomorrow.
Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in an incredibly efficient 28 minutes. Avery Bradley also netted 20 points for the Celtics, who received double-digit scoring from all five starters as well as Jae Crowder and Gigi Datome off the bench. Massachusetts product Nerlens Noel was the leading scorer for Philadelphia with 18 points.
For a full box score, click here.
A FIRST FOR BRAD STEVENS
Stevens now has his first five-game winning streak as a head coach in the NBA — an impressive run, even if the latest victory came against Philly. Maybe even more impressive? The C’s have now won 14 of their last 20 games. No matter how you spin it, this stretch has proved Stevens can flat out coach. He just may sneak a team that has undergone several identity changes this season into the playoffs, so imagine the possibilities when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge provides Stevens with the roster that many expect in the future.
|Brad Stevens shows his smarts in diagramming game-winning play||03.05.15 at 10:58 am ET|
If there was one person in the building not surprised by the brilliant adjustment made by Celtics coach Brad Stevens on the game-winning inbounds play from Marcus Smart Wednesday night, it was Gordon Hayward.
He was, of course, a star player for Stevens at Butler University when the Bulldogs went to back-to-back national title games, losing to Duke and UConn. Hayward was also the man who scored what appeared to be the game-winning basket with 1.7 seconds left, giving Utah an 84-83 lead.
Then the Celtics called timeout. They wanted Smart to inbound the ball. But the rookie was having all sorts of problems getting the ball in. Another timeout. Then Stevens diagrammed a play to get the look that would free Tyler Zeller at the rim, if Smart could get the ball in.
“They switched the play before when Marcus couldn’t get it inbounded with Hayward and (Derrick) Favors,” Stevens said. “So, we wanted to try to get that switch again, so we just ran a little action to get that switch again and then (Rudy) Gobert was on the ball so he wasn’t at the rim. So we were hoping to slip and catch it a little bit cleaner and lay it in, but, you know, that was the goal – and it ended up being Ok.”
Was Stevens surprised that Gobert was on the ball?
“That’s a hard call, and I think that with Marcus Smart taking it out and Gobert on the ball it’s hard to deliver a good pass,” Stevens said.”If Gobert tips it the game’s basically over, unless it tips right to us. So it’s easy to second-guess that stuff, but I won’t because I saw how long Marcus had to throw over just to get the pass to where it was. It’s another reason why we had to throw the ball in the air, though.”
“Coach Stevens drew up a great play,” Smart added. “The first play was supposed to go to Jae Crowder, Utah played it very well and he came back with the counterattack. It was tough, they put a tall defender on the ball and I had to pass-fake the ball to get him leaning one way and Tyler did a great job shoving his man off and just put it at the back of the backboard.”
Zeller caught the ball, gave a quick pump fake and delivered the game-winner as time expired.
‘It was a great pass,” Hayward said of the Smart entry pass from midcourt. “That’s what Coach Stevens does. He’s excellent in those situations of coming up with a play, I know it better than anybody. It’s a great play, great design, they knew we were switching. The pass had to be perfect to get over Rudy (Gobert) and Rod (Rodney Hood), and it was. And then (Zeller) made a good finish too. Credit them with their finish, too, but that’s not where we lost it, though. We should have been better.” Read the rest of this entry »
|5 things we learned as Celtics top Jazz on Tyler Zeller’s buzzer beater||03.04.15 at 10:12 pm ET|
Gordon Hayward hit a jumper over Tyler Zeller with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give Utah an 84-83 edge, but it was Tyler Zeller who would get the last laugh. Brad Stevens drew up a play to perfection and Marcus Smart hit Zeller under the hoop for what turned into the game-winner at the buzzer. The shot was reviewed, but the Garden erupted once at the refs announced the basket was good, and the C’s came away with a 85-84 win.
Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were the game’s two high scorers with 21 and 18 points respectively — both coming off the Boston bench. Avery Bradley was the Celtics‘ only starter to reach double figures with 13. Trey Burke and Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 16 points apiece. The Celtics are now 24-35 after the win, while the Jazz drop to 24-36 on the season.
For a full box score, click here.
Here are five things we learned in the win:
UGLY FIRST HALF
Yes, both teams did play in different cities the night before, but a score of 34-33 at halftime is not a common sight in the NBA. Typically a cold start will get better for both teams, but after the Jazz took a 19-18 lead into the second quarter, the teams combined for only 30 more points in the half — leaving the Celtics with a one-point edge at the break. Despite turning the ball over just once, the C’s managed their 34 points on 32.6 percent shooting (including 16.7 percent from downtown). The Jazz weren’t much better, shooting a mere 37.1 percent, but attempted 11 less shots than Boston (46-35).
|5 things we learned about Celtics at trade deadline||02.20.15 at 12:20 am ET|
In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”
Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.
So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.
Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.
The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.
MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD
With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.
AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS
You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.
This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.
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